Willie’s Woes in Perspective: Some Thoughts from Readers

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article about an imaginary Willie who was faced with some challenging issues.

He heads recruiting for a large construction company where business is good and hiring strong. There are many open positions for experienced, senior-level people and there will soon be many more as a large number of boomers are approaching retirement. He is being urged by some on his team to begin using Web 2.0 techniques and to develop a more exciting and interactive Web presence in order to get ready for both current and projected needs.

So Willie is wondering….would a social network be useful for his organization? Would it give him any return on his invested time and money? Or would it just divert attention from more urgent recruiting challenges? Is it worth investing in today or should he wait for some commercial applications to arrive (if they ever do)?

What would you do if you were Willie?

Here is one of the first responses that I received from a reader:

“I would suggest Willie fishes where the fish are. Web 2.0 is fun, new, different, exciting and sexy, however the fish he is looking for are not feeding there. 45-55 year old engineers and project managers are not on social sites on the Web. . .”

There is certainly a lot of merit in this argument. While a recent Pew study suggests that a very large percentage of people over 50 are using the Internet, it is likely few of them would use the Internet to find a job.

Most people – even those much younger – are most likely to find a job through a personal referral or family member. In the construction industry, this is even more likely as teams of workers often stay together and go from job to job.

So should Willie just forget about the Internet and Web 2.0? Another thoughtful reader offered this opinion:

“However, the trend line of usage is only heading in one direction – up.  Willie should not jump in just to be there. He should develop a plan to systematically explore the sourcing effectiveness of a range of established and emerging social networks.”

One intriguing thought was put forward by this reader:

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“Let the old-schoolers do an open house or attend events and let the new-schoolers do another Internet-based project. Measure both, see which one works better. Experimentation is the heart of problem solving and data doesn’t lie (if you don’t lie to the data).”

And another writer says:

“Sticking to ‘old school’ exclusively won’t work (it tends to attract old-school candidates) nor will emailing everyone and his brother via LinkedIn or Zoom. However a mixture of these approaches (along with well-thought-out and updated Employee Referral, Employee Alumni, Blogging, Industry Websites, etc) and an action plan that follows up with rigor and process to emails with calls (early in the morning or late in the evening) has worked for me.”

One reader seems to think that if we could find an incentive that attracts construction workers, then the Internet, specifically a Ning site, could be leveraged to spread the word and attract potential candidates. Many organizations have had success with methods similar to this – Cisco Systems used to give away water bottles and associated running/jogging paraphernalia to attract potential candidates with great success. He writes:

“I would get a bunch of tool makers for construction to sponsor tool giveaways on his Ning site and establish an email campaign offering multiple entries into each months drawing for the tools to members that drive new membership to the site. I would set a limit of 5 entries per person per month for folks that drive a certain number of new members. Tools talk to construction guys!”

This would be a low-cost solution as well because the tool makers would be paying for the giveaways.

As in most things in life, there is no one answer or magic bullet. Change can be evolutionary or disruptive depending partly at least on when you choose to get started on a change effort. If you start before things are in crisis, it can be an evolutionary experience.

If not, it will certainly be unpleasant and highly disruptive. This reader recognizes this and presents a reasonable approach for Willie to consider:

“Willie is in the same boat as many recruiters. They all face the same challenge; what I’m doing now is working so why should I change? What they are doing now is just fine and will work in the current hiring environment. However, what works now might not work in the future. If the team is having problems with the hard-to-fills now, I would anticipate the problem only getting worse.”

Thanks to each of you for sending in your opinions. Here are some of my thoughts, many of which are mirrored in those of the readers who responded:

  • Willie needs to develop a comprehensive approach to this issue. He should continue doing what works now and even needs to do it better. This means relying on some of the older and more experienced recruiters to continue building referral networks, holding on-site events, and doing other things that will engage and attract the current experienced worker.
  • On the other hand, he also needs to start building capability for tomorrow. This means perhaps letting some younger recruiters get a social network started and to begin finding ways to connect effectively with construction workers virtually. That may mean focusing on mobile technology — recruiting via mobile phone, using Twitter, or finding some other ways to engage people working outdoors without a typical office connection to the Internet.
  • Extensive planning, deep research, and large teams are not the best way to approach this. He should not spend much time in deciding which way to go because there is no good data and not many people with experience.
  • His solution should be one of experimentation. He could start a number of small projects that each use a different approach and monitor and measure each one for effectiveness. As soon as one approach fails, he needs to kill it and move on. Speed is important, as is effectiveness. Keep each approach simple and cheap. Use low-cost solutions such as Ning until he is certain of its potential and then invest as much as possible to make the chosen approach robust and highly engaging.

As in almost everything in life, there is value in yesterday and in tomorrow. It is finding the right balance that is the key to success.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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4 Comments on “Willie’s Woes in Perspective: Some Thoughts from Readers

  1. Rick,

    Actually not imaginary at all. The construction company I am referring to builds roads, bridges, water systems and so forth and has state and federal contracts that stretch for more than 2 years into the future. Infrastructure construction is still robust, although commercial and residential has obviously bottomed out.

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